Much debate has been made over
the possibility of golden Mitsubishi Type 96 Carrier fighters (Allied
code name Claude) in Japanís Imperial Naval Air Force.
There are documented claims of witnessís accounts of "Gendaís
Circus" which allegedly flew golden A5Ms, and that there is a lack
of evidence showing the A5M was unprotected NMF.
However, while the debate is spirited, it is still very hard to
know what is the case. Here
are some known facts:
- There is one known color
slide of an A5M4 in flight.
- No A5M relics are known
to exist that can prove or disprove the gold finish.
- Not ALL A5Ms were
finished in a way that could have had the gold finish.
- There are eyewitness accounts which have been related by older
generations that claim to have seen "golden" aircraft.
- A passage in the book of the time indicates Mitsubishi used clear
lacquer coats to ensure perfectly smooth aircraft finishes on the
Asahi Shimbun newspaper's "Kamikaze" aircraft.
- These five facts stand as
testimony to the viewpoints in this study.
- Viewpoint I: The Claude had a golden colored finish
- There is one known color
slide of an A5M4 in flight.
- David Aiken, a well known
researcher in Japanese aviation and a noted historian on the attack
on Pearl Harbor, has a color slide of Hokoku 278 A5M4 (tail code
9-158), and it certainly is a gold color.
If scanned and the color balance and a number of other
settings are shifted, it has a definite golden color to it.
Some folks have questioned the authenticity of the slide,
some have rejected it as a colorized slide, and some others have
accepted it as proof. The
slide is a copy of an old shot, it doesnít have the telltale
evidence of many of the old retouched photos (color bleeding, etc),
and the Hokoku numbers are not retouched.
Parts of the plane (propeller and engine crankcase, maybe the
drop tank) appear silver, so itís not just a matter of a yellowed
- On 1/3/2000,
Osamu Tagaya emailed Jim Lansdale a note
regarding his father's account of the golden Claudes. Jim Lansdale
forwarded this information for inclusion:
- "Let me give you an update on my father's comments. I had
asked him to sharpen his memory of the event and delve into the
matter for me when I called him at Christmas, gave him a week to
chew on it and got the low down from him when I called to wish
my parents a Happy New Year this past Saturday. I should add
that my father just turned 79, but is in fine physical health
(knock on wood) and his mind and speech are as clear as ever, so
I don't think we need to build in any additional margin of error
to his comments other than the normal allowances one needs to
make for the fallabilities of any human memory.
- "First, however, a bit of background. As I'm sure you are
aware, Bunrindo's Famous Aircraft of the World No. 27 (March
1991) on the Type 96 Carrier Fighter states, at p. 67 under
"Type 96 Kansen Camouflage and Markings" the
following: "actually, the overall silver dope finish was
the only basic finish which the Type 96 Kansen had, the
brown/green "kumogata" finish seen on aircraft of the
12--15 Ku during the early years of the China Incident being no
more than a temporary scheme. The procedure adopted in 1939 of
applying a coat of surface preservative ("nisu") over
the silver dope finish on carrier-based aircraft as an
anti-corrosion measure did cause considerable change in the
surface color, and thus, technically should be distinguished.
Almost all Mark 4 Kansen (i.e. A5M4) were in this latter
finish." FAOW No. 27 was put together by Shigeru Nohara,
but much of the actual historical material was provided by his
historian/researcher partner, Kazuhiko Osuo. Again, no primary
source for this statement is given, but it does provide another
case of this phenomenon being cited aside from the Izawa/Rikyu
Watanabe line of inquiry.
- "Now, for my father's comments. You will see from them
that we appear to have evidence that the adoption of this "nisu"
overcoat procedure actually predated Nohara/Osuo's cited 1939
date by quite a margin. According to my father, Yoshio Tagaya,
the air show in question took place on Saturday, June 5, 1937 at
Haneda Airport, Tokyo from 8:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. In case you
are amazed or incredulous at his detailed recall, I assure you
it is not based solely on memory. It is backed up by statements
contained in the 50th Anniversary Graduation of the "Rokuju-Kai"
of Furitsu Dai-Ichi Chugakko publication, privately printed on
October 31, 1988 and distributed to members. "Rokuju-Kai"
("Association 60") is the class association for my
father's graduating class (the 60th) from the school in
question, usually referred to in abbreviation as "Furitsu
Itchu". (Direct translation would be "Tokyo Municipal
Middle School No. 1". This happens to be the same school
attended by Jun-Ichi Sasai, Saburo Sakai's buntaicho in Tainan
Kokutai, before he went on to the Naval Academy at Eta Jima. At
p. 251, the English version of Hata & Izawa's Navy Aces and
Fighter Units book gives the translation as "Tokyo
Municipal High School No. 1". We are both talking about the
same school, but some explanation is in order. A direct
translation of "Chugakko" would be "Middle
School", but I should point out that the pre-1945 Japanese
education system was modeled after the German gymnasium system.
After the war, under the U.S. occupation, the education system
was restructured along American lines. "Middle School"
under the old system equates to "High School" in the
American system. Sasai was born in 1918. My father was born at
the end of 1920.
- "He does not remember Sasai from school personally, but
thinks Sasai may have been classmates with his elder brother who
attended the same school.
- "Under the postwar restructuring, Furitsu Itchu was
renamed Hibiya Koto Gakko (or Hibiya Koko for short) (i.e.
Hibiya High School) and is still very much in existence today.
Anyway, my father remembers the day as being overcast (not heavy
dark clouds, but a high overcast). If his memory is accurate, we
can probably rule out "sunshine reflecting on metal"
as a possible answer. He recalls the Claudes came over shortly
after lunch. There were three of them (i.e. a shotai). They made
a dramatic appearance, roaring in over the hangar line at low
altitude and proceeding to do aerobatics above the spectators.
He emphasizes that the color was not a thick gold color like you
see on chocolate wrappers. It was a faint golden-yellowish tone
over an otherwise "normal" silver-gray metallic
finish. He likens it to something known as "alumite",
an aluminum that has a distinct golden yellow tinge to it, I
assume from being treated with some kind of non-toxic varnish
preservative compound. In Japan, among other things, it was used
to make children's school lunch boxes until well into the 60s.
Any Japanese in their 40s or older would instantly know what one
was referring to. (The younger ones, maybe not, since everything
became plastic thereafter.) I am somewhat at a loss, however, to
give a similar example in American popular culture which would
be equally intuitive for Americans. Anyway, my father says that
the Claudes made a big impression, not only on him, but on all
his classmates as well. He says a lot of them still talk about
it when they have class reunions.
- "We know that the skirmish with Chinese troops at the
Marco Polo Bridge on the outskirts of Beijing (Peking) which was
the trigger for the Sino-Japanese War took place on July 7,
1937. That was a month AFTER the air show at Haneda. So we
appear to be talking about pre-China War Mark 1 Kansen (A5M1)
already appearing in the varnish coated finish."
- Further, in support of the possibility of a lacquer clear coat,
Jim Lansdale shared with me Stef Karver's email of 15 January 2000,
which contained a passage from The Aeroplane (April
14, 1937, p. 439), which said:
- "The exterior finish of the machine ("Kamikaze"
civilian version of Ki-15 built by Mitsubishi) appears to be very
good indeed. The flush-riveting of both the wing and the fuselage
is some of the finest we have ever seen. The whole surface has
been covered with many layers of clear dope so that not the
slightest inequality can be felt."
- While this passage has nothing to do with the Claude, it is
interesting to note that the first Claudes and the Kamikaze were
built by Mitsubishi at almost the same time (1935-1936), using the
same technology and techniques of manufacture available, (according
to Francillon's Japanese Aircraft of the
Pacific War) by Mitsubishi Jukogyo KK at Nagoya. The main differences,
of course, are that the Claude was a naval fighter, while the Kamikaze
was a civilian newspaper's courier plane.
- Viewpoint II: There is no substantial evidence the Claude had a
golden colored finish
- Fact: No A5M relics exist that can prove or disprove the gold
- Jim Lansdale, renowned
aviation historian, has pointed out that no A5M relics are known to
exist in any collection. There
are some derelict hulks, but the finish is certainly gone by now.
He contends that without proof or reasonable evidence, we have
to say we donít know. He
also points out that we canít tell the presence of a clear coat by
looking at a photo.
- Viewpoint III: Some
Claudes may have had a golden colored finish, but some did not
- Fact: Not all A5Ms were finished in a way that could have had the
Weill has summed the three different schemes he has determined:
- One NMF finish concerning all planes from the first operational
types, except those that were camouflaged, is definitely an NMF finish
because the different shades of metal following the panels are clearly
discernible. This applies to A5M1 Model 1, A5M2 Model 2-1 early and
late, A5M2 Model 2-2 both early and late (these versions being exactly
similar in external shape to the Model 4's).
- A camouflage
finish of Kumogata (cloud style) aspect of dark green and brown on the
upper surface, the under surface remaining NMF (applies to Model 1 and
Model 2-1 both early and late).
- One finish
applies only to Model 4: This one looks like a metallic finish of high
gloss aspect when new (the panels are all of the same shade). From the
B&W documents, it is impossible to tell whether it was a silver
paint application or any other metallic color.
- Some folks think the A5Ms
were camouflaged on their undersides, although they could have had NMF.
- Were any A5Ms gold or
- This is still open, and the
facts (or lack of) feed the debate.
It is known that the Japanese did not use anodized skin on
their aircraft, and common sense prevails to state the aircraft needed
to be protected from salt air, as was the case on aircraft carriers.
However, just because this was needed does not prove that a
clear lacquer was used; Alclad (almost like galvanizing) skin was
- The possibility of a thick
lacquer finish to make the plane as smooth as possible for aerodynamic
efficiency seems certainly plausible.
- The debate could continue
for a long time, but the best answer will likely come from old records
from Mitsubishi. Did
Mitsubishi apply a coat of lacquer to the Claude, or was the finish
applied to the Kamikaze an Asahi-Shimbun exclusive?
Did the Japanese Navy have a contractual directive that stated
how the Claude were to be delivered, and if so (this would be VERY
likely), where might we find a copy?
Until more evidence has been uncovered, we shall remain
guessing and building our models how we choose!